Music and Vision homepage

CD Spotlight

Romantic voice

to Kuschnerova playing Scriabin

Alexander Skrjabin - Etudes, Préludes, Poèmes. Elena Kuschnerova, piano. © 2000 Ars Musici

For all the opulent exoticism of his unique harmony, Alexander Scriabin was nothing if not meticulous about musical form and structure. While his late music was inspired by embrace of Eastern mysticism and the symbolic power of Russian sacred music, the Etudes and Préludes represent his youthful output. Here, Scriabin, still a conservatory student when he penned these works in the 1890s, found his own, romantic voice. At once passionate, delicate and bold, each of the Etudes is a character piece that demands a great deal of the interpreter, not the least of which is the ability to keep things in tight focus, lest they go astray. Motivic characterization demands a player who sculpts each gesture affectively, but specifically, while defining a consistent rhythmic spine underneath.

Elena Kuschnerova, a fine pianist living in Germany, made an impressive début in an earlier disc devoted to Prokofiev. But Scriabin is clearly not her strong suit. Her playing is throughout wayward and distorted, bending propulsive rhythms into a kind of spineless elastic that compromises form as well as content. This kind of gooey rhapsodicism might work well in early Rachmaninoff, or cocktail music, but Scriabin's music depends for its life on the maintenance of an identifiable rhythmic spine. Its various internal structures -- its array of gestures, pedal points, harmonic goals -- ought not suffer the whimsical indulgences of the performer, but illuminated for their immanent structural legitimacy and consistency. Witness Ms Kuschnerova's flabby evisceration of the famous D sharp minor Etude, which is rhythmically all over the place as it rushes and drags inexplicably. Her otherwise lovely reading of the Préludes, where she finds some remarkable opportunities for contrast and sports a seductive tone, are likewise made taffy, thus compromising their narrative thread and poetry. Even dynamically, Ms Kuschnerova seems incapable of building towards or moving away from a climax. Elsewhere her text tampering is just an annoyance. In the first of the Op 8 Etudes, for example, her overpedaling only enhances her thumping heavy handedness, while conveying nothing of the butterfly lightness and transparency the piece demands.

All in all, a disappointment for serious Scriabinists. Even so, Ms Kuschnerova's sincerity, in spite of her interpretive naiveté, comes through. There are few enough sets of the Scriabin Etudes, and this one is, in spite its many faults, one of the better ones. Indeed, it's the kind of simplistic, sentimental and indulgent playing that may just attract legions of erstwhile, if new, music fans to Scriabin. That can't be such a bad thing, can it?

Copyright © 14 July 2002 John Bell Young, Tampa, Florida, USA


Alexander Skrjabin - Etudes, Préludes, Poèmes

1259 Stereo 69'38" 2000 Ars Musici

Elena Kuschnerova, piano

Etude Op 2 Andante in C sharp minor; 12 Etudes Op 8 (1894); 24 Préludes Op 11 (1888-1896); 2 Poèmes Op 32 (1903)



 << Music & Vision home      Recent CD reviews       Missa Solemnis >>